Word of mouth – always an important influence on booksellers and other early reviewers when it comes to deciding what to read next – is gaining ground on the web via blogs and Twitter. That’s what we learned at last week’s richly anecdotal and completely unscientific #followreader discussion on, yes, Twitter. The hour-long conversation about how professional readers decide what to read drew scores of responses from the U.S., and even the U.K. and beyond. See below for highlights, including valuable tips for publicists on how to pitch bloggers and booksellers, and the question of using e-galleys.
Please join this week’s publishing discussion on Thursday May 21 from 4-5pm ET. We’ll be on Twitter at #followreader, a day ahead of our usual Friday timeslot because of the Memorial Day holiday in the U.S. This week’s topic is the connections between librarians/publishers/authors/readers. To follow to our discussion in real time, go to Twitter Search and type in #followreader. To join in the discussion, follow @charabbott and @katmeyer on Twitter, and include #followreader into your responses.
Blog and Tweet Power Rising
Book blogs are clearly exerting influence on booksellers and book bloggers trying to decide what to read, based on the large number of comments we received, though each group seems to trust recommendations from other readers of their own ilk above all (e.g. bloggers trust bloggers; booksellers trust booksellers).
Tweets are also an important new source of recommendations for books, say publishers, booksellers and bloggers (big surprise, since this discussion took place on that very social network). Tweets and retweets only amplify the effect. “I have been really enjoying bookseller recs from their blogs, something I only discover via Twitter,” said one publisher (@AZPress).
Some idiosyncratic rules also guide some readers: one bookseller reported, “I throw in backlist every 4 or 5 ARCs, usually make sure it’s widely in print; out of print books are for vacations! (@jtpm). A blogger said, “If I find a new-to-me author, I usually start reading all backlist. But have a two-books rule: two bad ones and I move on.” (@susanmpls).
Other major influencers are pretty much what you’d expect, depending on the reader’s awareness of an author, interest in plot or subject, the visual appeal of the cover (“I totally read books based ONLY on the cover” @mawbooks), industry buzz, author blurbs, and the book’s release date. For booksellers, the physical quality of the galley is also a factor: “POD is still not up to par, for a lot of book people at least. Bad quality of book = turnoff.”(@leighmcdonald)
E-galleys elicited mixed responses, with some reporting openness to the format but hesitation about the cost of e-readers and the platform issues involved.
What Influences Bloggers
Buzz among bloggers is a key factor in choosing what to read, say bloggers, along with their personal familiarity with the author or interest in the subject. For example, several mentioned that one blogger got about 12 other blogs in the romance community to read a small press title by Judith James.
Author blurbs also influence this group: bloggers are less likely than booksellers to discount blurbs as motivated by politics and logrolling than booksellers are.
New releases, new authors and more genres appeal to bloggers more now than before they blogged, many agree with gusto.
Library and store displays and outreach, and award lists also influence some bloggers.
- “My library is really on top of things with weekly newsletter, contests and digital sources.” @BethFishReads
- “My library displays a lot of local writers’ books. I’d never hear of them otherwise.” @chrisbookarama
- “Updates is not something my library does. I think the U.S. is ahead on this.” @insidebooks
- “I’m tempted by 3’s for 2’s in bookstores.” @helenawaldron
Traditional book reviews are an influence to some degree: some read prepub reviews in the print editions of PW, Booklist, Audiofile or Bookmarks, or major publications like the New York Times (“the NYTBR is more influential for nonfiction”), while others read reviews online and on reader networks like Library Thing. Some don’t read reviews at all.
Social networks for readers also attract some bloggers looking for recommendations, but reactions are mixed.
- “Most of my recs came from Library Thing before I started reviewing & I still look to it as a good source of quality recs” @BookishRuth
- “I’ve looked at the reviews on Good Reads of books I’m considering. @janicu
- “I like concept of LibraryThing et al. but it’s hard to spend time in so many different social networks” @katmeyer
- “Library Thing’s interface annoys me” @janicu
- “Disappointed in Good Reads for finding books I wouldn’t find otherwise.” @AZpress
- I hardly look at Shelfari and Library Thing anymore” @chrisbookarama
- “I find my friends’ bookshelves on Completely Novel a good influence” @helenawaldron
A personalized pitch from the publisher increases the chances a blogger would look at a galley, though some dismiss publisher cover letters altogether.
- “I appreciate if author or publicist sends me gentle reminder about a month before release date.” @jane_l
- “Not asking for help, just my consideration. Well crafted and personalized is best.” @mawbooks
- “Best ones mention things found on my ‘about’ page, compliment my family and blog” @mawbooks
- “Best ones reference who referred them to my blog, why they are glad they followed through.” @mawbooks
Few mentioned the book’s publisher as an influencing factor. One who did followed the New York Review of Books.
What Influences Booksellers
The look and feel of an ARC matters more to booksellers, particularly the cover.
Buzz or word of mouth is equally important, particularly from other booksellers, but also from customers and publishers. And while booksellers cast a suspicious eye on politicking and payback in author blurbs, they acknowledge that blurbs still have power.
- “My wife’s rec carries big weight. After that, other booksellers or book bloggers can get me excited.” @vromans
- “Author blurbs influence whether I feature a title on front table or leave in section.” @RickRennicks
- “A blurb from a beloved writer will make me at least look at the book @bookdwarf
- “In my market, a blurb from Neil Gaiman would sell copies of the phone book” @RickRennicks
- “Re: big blurbers, a co-worker and I get a big chuckle out of every books with an Eggers or Shteyngart blurb @ErinHere
- “When it’s a personal rec from a rep, always read it and often book ends up as a staff pick. Love our reps!” @michelleinkwell
Mixed Responses to Digital Galleys
Booksellers and bloggers who read digital galleys wish more were available. Some who don’t reported they would if they had an e-reader, but the price is too high. Some just love paper.
- “I would love a system where I could pick and choose, download what I’m most likely to read.” @booksquare
- “If I had an e-reader, I would read digital galleys but I’d still like a copy of book once published.” @mawbooks
- “Without an e-reader, I know I would never read it on my computer.” @bostonbookgirl
- “E-readers are good for space, time management.” @helenawaldron
- “Maybe with one or two more generations of e-readers. So far, too hard to do my page flip scans” @history_geek
- “I’m not yet reader to buy an e-reader. Until format is standard and universal.” @BethFishReads
- “When I do an ebook it’s usually a last resort for a book that didn’t arrive in time for my stop on a blog tour.” @Wayne Hurlbert
Thanks again to all who participated!